PITTSBURGH – The Penguins and Flames treated their rare meeting as a playoff game. Marc-Andre Fleury certainly played as if the stakes were that high.
Fleury made 31 saves for his fourth shutout of the season, and Pittsburgh kept pace in the Eastern Conference playoff race with a 2-0 win over Calgary on Wednesday night. “It’s like playoff hockey right now, with how that game was,” Fleury said. “Every goal was big and every save was big.”
Fleury was responsible for several of the latter, while defencemen Kris Letang and Hal Gill provided offence for the Penguins, who improved to 4-1-1 on their franchise-record eight-game homestand. Evgeni Malkin had two assists, giving him a career-high 107 points and extending his NHL scoring lead to 11 points.
After having its 12-game points streak snapped in a 3-1 loss to Philadelphia on Sunday, the Penguins beat the Flames in a spirited, hard-hitting, end-to-end contest to take over sole possession of sixth place in the conference with 88 points – a point behind Carolina and two behind Philadelphia.
The Flames – playing in Pittsburgh for the first time since Dec. 5, 2005 – remained three points ahead of idle Vancouver atop the Northwest Division.
Facing the team ranked second in the league in goals per game, Fleury earned his 15th career shutout. He has allowed only 20 goals in 11 starts this month.
“He played unbelievable,” Pittsburgh centre Jordan Staal said. “He was there for every save.”
Some of the Flames’ best chances came during their five power-play opportunities, including a four-minute chance that spanned the second intermission after Malkin was penalized for high-sticking Jim Vandermeer.
“The difference for us was not being able to score on the power play,” Calgary coach Mike Keenan said. “When you get five opportunities and you come up with nothing, you’re not going to win a hockey game on the road.”
Fleury stopped David Moss from in close during that power play, and denied Curtis Glencross at least three times throughout the course of the game on chances from in front of the net. Another of Fleury’s better saves was on Calgary goal leader Michael Cammalleri on a rebound of Olli Jokinen’s shot.
“Special teams are a big part of it, and they beat us in that area tonight,” Flames captain Jarome Iginla said. “For the most part it was a one-goal game the whole time, and if we get one there (on the four-minute power play) going into the third, 1-1 is a solid spot to be in on the road. And we didn’t get it done.”
Letang got the only goal Pittsburgh would need, his ninth, 8:20 into the contest when he slammed home a puck while on the power play and wide open to the right of Flames goalie Miikka Kiprusoff.
Malkin began the play with a slap shot from the right circle. The rebound came to Crosby, who was standing on the goal line on that side. He slid a pass through the crease to Letang.
Letang has four goals this month and eight in his past 24 games. He has 10 points in 14 games under interim coach Dan Bylsma.
Gill, a six-foot-seven defensive defenceman with only 31 goals in 845 career games, had to have one of his prettiest 6:43 into the third after Malkin carried the puck down the right wing into the Calgary end and left it for Gill.
Gill’s second of the season was a wrist shot from high in the right circle that beat Kiprusoff on his stick side, perfectly placed into the top-left corner just inside the crossbar and post.
When asked if he had a particular spot in mind when he let the puck go, Gill deadpanned, “Yep, the net.”
“It’s fun to score goals,” he added. “These guys like Geno (Malkin) do it all the time, but you know, for me, it doesn’t happen very often.”
The Penguins are 13-2-3 since Bylsma took over for the fired Michel Therrien Feb. 15.
“Everyone’s contributing right now, that’s the big thing,” Staal said. “That’s playoff hockey, and that’s what we’re looking for.”
Notes: This was each team’s final interconference game of the season. The Penguins finished 10-6-2 against the Western Conference and the Flames 10-7-1 against the East. … Crosby has a point in each of the 10 games since he returned from a groin injury and in 14 consecutive games overall. … Crosby has at least one power-play assist in each of his past five games.